WRC rules on long-term absence case

You generally allow for employees missing one or two days’ work through sickness.

If it’s a bad dose, you can lose an employee for a week.

Occasionally you may even need to manage a long-term absence.

A recent Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ruling in a long-term absence case shows the importance of fair procedures when dealing with this tricky scenario.….

WRC upholds dismissal due to long-term absence

A Clerical Officer brought an unfair dismissal claim to the WRC against a public body. The claim related to how various long-term absences were dealt with by his employer.

The issues began in 2016 and 2017 when the employee was absent from work for long periods.

He argued that a serious assault he suffered in 2012 left him with stress-related symptoms that prevented him from attending work.

He also said his employer was aware of this, but still, the number of days he missed was unusually high. 200 workdays…each year.

Fit for work

The employee took up his role as Clerical Officer in 2016 and began to miss work that same year.

By July of 2016, the employer had him assessed by its Chief Medical Officer. The doctor found the employee fit for work then and once more in November. The assessments had little impact on the employee’s attendance record.

The employer submitted further evidence showing that the employee agreed to return to work on six occasions. Each time he failed to show up.

Throughout 2017, the employer notified the employee that he was in serious breach of the public body’s employment procedures and disciplinary action was under consideration. A disciplinary meeting followed in January 2018.

At this point, the employee received a final warning about his lack of attendance. On January 30th, he was again absent on sick leave. Despite again agreeing to return to work, he failed to do so.

With no option left, the employer informed the employee that he was being dismissed. The employee did not appeal, and on March 8th 2018, the public body notified him that his dismissal was effective.

Employee defence

The employee submitted sick-certificates at various points during this period. He also submitted that the public body failed to hold return to work interviews or sick leave reviews as required under its own internal policies.

In his defence, the employee also argued that his stress-related symptoms amounted to a disability and the employer failed in its duty to provide relevant reasonable accommodations.

Decision of Adjudication Officer

Employees not showing up for work on a regular basis, or not at all, is a serious issue for employers.

This was also the opinion of the Adjudication Officer (AO). The scale of the absences put an excessive burden on colleagues, added to their workloads and reduced service quality.

The AO found that the employee’s conduct led to his dismissal. He received adequate notification of the seriousness of the disciplinary proceedings against him and his right to representation.

There was therefore no breach of fair procedures in the dismissal process.

Be fair and reasonable

This decision demonstrates that the WRC will look at all circumstances in the case.

Although the employer didn’t always strictly comply with its own internal policies, the WRC found that the dismissal was ‘within the reasonable band of responses, given the gravity of the conduct, the length of time it lasted and the impact on service.’

Is a long-term absence causing problems in your workplace? Contact the advice line on +353 1 886 0350 to speak with one of our experts.

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Nora Cashe

Peninsula

Nóra studied Law in Griffith College Dublin and qualified as a Barrister in 2008, practising in the area of Criminal law. She is also member of the Irish Employment Law Association.

Nora has extensive experience representing clients at Employment Tribunal hearings, Conciliation / Mediation meetings before both the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. 

Nóra is a member of the Irish Employment Law Association and engages with the WRC Adjudication Service as part of their stakeholder engagement forum.

Deiric McCann

Genos International Europe

Deiric McCann leads Genos International Europe – The EU division of a world-leading provider of emotional intelligence solutions. 

With over two decades experience at the highest levels of management, Deiric supports clients to develop the resilience, emotional intelligence, psychological safety and engagements of their employees.

Rhiannon Coyne

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Rhiannon Coyne is a Senior HR Consultant at Graphite HRM and will be providing an overview of best practice on how to deal with complaints of bullying and harassment in the workplace. 

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David Begg

Workplace Relations Commission

David Begg was appointed Chairperson of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in January 2021.

David is also a professor at Maynooth University Institute of Social Sciences. Mr Begg’s extensive history in the trade union movement included leading the ESB Officers Association and Irish Congress of Trade Unions, stepping away from the latter in 2001 to chair international aid agency Concern.

David Begg was also previously a director of the Central Bank of Ireland between 1995 and 2010.